One of the written responses I’ve garnered to my recent changes expresses nostalgia over my childhood, when I was (among other things) a “self-sufficient explorer.” I’m sure it’s a symptom of the strangeness of my mind that this particular bit of nostalgia immediately felt ironic to me. My initial reaction was, “But that’s the selfsame impulse that’s led me to these outlandish new vistas of thought that she finds so troubling. Would she still have wanted to nurture my propensity for self-sufficient exploring if she knew that?” To me, thinking and exploring have always been two sides of the same coin. You just do one with your mind and the other with your body.
She was right of course: I was always an explorer. I had a single shot .22 rifle, a fishing pole, a pocketful of matches, a ratty old sleeping bag, and enough curiosity to keep impelling me over that next ridge, where maybe I would see something I had never seen before. I’d eat trout or rabbits (or ants and grasshoppers if I couldn’t find anything better), so I could stay out a little longer and see a little more. I was always that kid who would wander farther than everyone else. Everyone would be back home for hours already and I’d still be out walking by starlight, because just maybe, if I went far enough, I might see something new and exciting.
I’ve probably developed too much of a cynical side over the years (although I keep finding out that people are awesome, so meaningful interactions with others usually stifles that side) – but even though I tend to keep my optimistic side safely hidden away, I can’t help but think that in a way, an explorer is always an optimist. There’s always that driving thought, If I just go a few more steps I know I’ll finally find whatever it is I’m looking for. The day an explorer stops exploring is the day you know his optimism died.
But of course this propensity doesn’t just affect what you do with your body in the mountains of Wyoming. All that wandering affords plenty of time for thinking; and in my thoughts I was always compelled by the same swell of optimism. If I can only follow this train of thought beyond that next ridge of opposing arguments, just maybe I can think of something I never thought before. Maybe I’ll see something new, that will make sense of all these nagging doubts. Just a few more steps, I can’t stop now.
I explored my hometown as thoroughly as I could. I left no stone unturned. Still driven to make new sense of the questions that never left me, I moved out to the surrounding countryside. I left the state and began trudging through regions unknown. I boarded a jet and flew beyond the rising of the sun. Somewhere along the way, I left my loved ones too far behind. I went further than their perspectives could reach. Maybe I broke the relationship but I never wanted to. I hope they know they’ll always have a piece of my broken heart that will never leave my Wyoming home and the thoughts and perspectives and ways of looking at things with which the scene is unchangeably imbued.
I hope they know that I never tried to be offensive. I never meant any harm, I never intended any personal rejection. I’m just an explorer. I’m an addict of my own propensity. Wyoming, Peru, Kazakhstan, fundamentalism, reformed theology, patristics, evolution…. When the opportunity comes up, and I see another ridge that needs looking behind, my mind and body are up and out the door before I know how to stop them, my swelling optimism urges me on, and I plod up that hill, every step of the way imagining what new wonders await me on the other side. I’ve left some people behind, it’s true, and I’m sorry. But what can I say, I’m a wanderer. And wanderers have to get used to being alone.